Monday, August 06, 2012

Advice to Young Faculty and Researchers

No, not by me. At least until the very end of this short note.

How to get tenure at MIT?
Achieving tenure is not possible merely by checking off a series of accomplishments; MIT does not have a list of specific, objective criteria for tenure such as a minimum number of publications in designated journals.
More here [pdf].

Its not all 'tick-nology' at the MIT we gather.

Next is, Advice to a new faculty member [pdf, DOI 10.1007/s00216-005-0285-1] by Patricia Ann Mabrouk in the Anal Bioanal Chem. 2006.

A sample:
Don’t accept new students blindly into your research group simply because they are overly excited about you and your new research program-find out about their interests, ask them why they want to work specifically for you, and check their academic background. There is nothing worse than a “bad” student.
More Advice to Young Researchers [pdf, DOI 10.1109/MCS.2008.929065] by Malcolm Shuster in the IEEE Control Systems Mag. 2008.

A sample:
Wrong work is not “practical,” just because you can describe it simply without equations. Rigorous mathematical work is not “only of theoretical interest,” just because it requires a lot of equations. Do not let yourself be influenced by the kind of person who favors simplicity over correctness.
India-centric, here is Foundations and flagpoles of research [pdf] a well balanced one by Prof. V. Ramanarayanan (IISc.) in the July 2010 issue of Current Science, that should help you pace and enjoy your career.

A sample:
If the research work of an individual or a group of researchers is compared to an iceberg, then the publication record is the tip of that iceberg.

[...] On the one end is the tip of the research iceberg namely the publications, which may be seen and counted. On the other end are the unseen foundations – teaching, development work, sponsored funded research, mentoring the research scholars and their placement. Current bias tilts in favour of counting the visible tip and discounting the invisible base.
One of the best in such articles is this Student’s Guide to Research [pdf] by Prof. David Bernstein that appeared in 1999 in IEEE Control Systems magazine. Revisiting this article over 'periodic lulls' reminds me of the how of a, just as The Role of the Professor [pdf] by Prof. Walter Noll reminds me of the why of a, professorial career.

Looking for more? If you can stand the initial verbal excess therein, I have a growing collection of such articles and web-notes here: How to do research (You may pitch in with your suggestions, to build that collection).

Ending lightly with two bits of my informational entropy: Top twenty lies by young faculties.


  1. Digbijoy Nath said...

    Extremely helpful and nice post ! Thanks !

  2. Ungrateful Alive said...

    Some great advice. But clearly MIT has no concern for remaining "RTI compliant"! Also, Indian academics would do well not to follow the advice blindly but "tropicalize" them first.

  3. jbeck said...

    The buzz has it that MIT over recruits tenure track candidates and makes it very clear right at the outset. "Listen, we have Y slots coming up in X years. Of the Y of you Z won't make it." After several years of this tradition candidates now have learnt what to expect. Besides even having made it through X years as a tenure candidate at MIT is a great achievement. This competitive policy of MIT is more than made up by its almost sincere disinterest in pomp. MIT unlike some "prestigious schools" cares little for the candidate's pedigree, which high school, UG school or grad school.

  4. sacredfig said...

    Couldn't disagree more with Ramanarayanan's excerpted comment above. I haven't read his Current Science article, but the iceberg analogy just sinks to begin with.

    Publications are a tangible demonstration and obvious evidence of research activity. They don't necessarily mean that "great" work has been done, but I am yet to see "great" work that hasn't been published. All the fluff about "unseen" work - which includes serving on pointless committees - can only augment (to a limited degree) a favorable assessment of the candidate. But ultimately you've got to show what you've really done.

    You might have fewer (but more important papers) which is just fine. But just having few papers, which are also not important, cannot be supplanted by having been a very nice advisor (how is this possible if your student doesn't have papers?), teaching well, serving on committees, blah blah blah.

    Comparisons with MIT, Harvard, Stanford etc. are seriously misplaced, but that's another story.
    To not even expect young faculty at IIXs to publish very much, when they don't even have to deal with pressures of tenure, is in my view a great plan for mediocrity.

  5. Ankur Kulkarni said...

    I completely agree with sacredfig. I don't see how Ramanarayanan's advice can lead anyone to excellence. By his analogy, one should be counting, not runs the match, but the hours spent in practicing as a measure of the quality of a cricketer. That is just escapist obscurantist BS.

    I also sense that he is confusing his personal, internal goals with his research. His advice may lead one to general sense of contentment with one's life. That doesn't have much to do with research, because research is not an internal journey. It is a fact finding exercise and pertains to the world outside. It therefore needs to be done with professional standards of which publishing is necessary to credibly establish one's research. I don't see how one can think of publications in the way he does if one is a serious-minded researcher.